It played as a joke in the moment, but there’s an element of truth to most jokes. So when Rams head coach Sean McVay was asked during his appearance earlier this month on Jimmy Kimmel Live! how often he thinks about his team’s Super Bowl loss to New England, his response wasn’t entirely in jest.
The Rams enter their preseason camp this week with the memory of their 13-3 loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII heavy on everyone’s minds. How could an offense that averaged 32.9 points per game in the regular season manage merely a field goal on the sport’s biggest stage? How could the innovative McVay play things so conservatively with a Lombardi Trophy on the line?
No matter the results of 2019, those questions may never fully fade for the Rams. But camp is the time to start focusing on the coming season, one that brings much higher expectations than the Rams faced prior to 2018.
Last year, the Rams were the plucky team that took the NFC by storm behind McVay, third-year quarterback Jared Goff and a wide array of veterans. That success means that now every team will take the Rams seriously from the outset, and that regular-season wins are the expectation, not a pleasant surprise.
How do the Rams handle this new mindset? Does it weigh on the team, or act as a motivating factor? We can begin to glean the answers to these questions as camp commences in Irvine this week.
Dates: Rookies report on Wednesday, July 24, veterans on Friday, July 26. Training camp is scheduled to run through Sunday, Aug. 4.
Location: UC Irvine. Note: Training Camp is free and open to the public, but tickets are required for entry. Fans must register for a free ticket at therams.com/trainingcamp or on the Rams Mobile App.
Exhibition opener: at Oakland Raiders, 5 p.m., Aug. 10.
Home exhibition game: vs. Denver Broncos, 6 p.m., Aug. 24.
The big question: How does the Rams’ coaching staff handle the way the rest of the league adjusts to their offense? Los Angeles’ attack was second only to the Kansas City Chiefs in average yards and points per game in 2018. But in the Super Bowl, the Patriots provided teams with a formula for how to stop the Rams: Control the gaps to keep the run game under control, then use a zone coverage in the secondary to prevent the Rams from breaking any big plays. Other teams will try to follow New England’s example, and the Rams will need to use camp to prepare for how to attack this kind of defensive scheme. The condition of running back Todd Gurley’s knee and just how much the Rams hold him out of training camp reps also bears close watching.
Position battle to watch: Ndamukong Suh’s offseason departure leaves the Rams with a big hole to fill at nose tackle, one that could be filled in a variety of ways. Michael Brockers, who is entering the final year of his contract, could move from defensive end to tackle. His versatility is a big bonus for the Rams as they sort through who will replace Suh. John Franklin-Myers and Sebastian Joseph-Day will try to earn the starting nose tackle job, too. Rookie Greg Gaines, the former University of Washington and La Habra High standout, is the most natural fit at the position and with a strong camp could move into the starting lineup and allow Brockers to stay at end.
Rookie report: Given the Rams’ veteran composition, it will be tough for any rookie to crack the starting lineup in 2019, especially since the Los Angeles didn’t have a first-round pick for the third year in a row. Even the Rams’ lone second-round selection, Washington’s Taylor Rapp, will struggle to get playing time behind offseason acquisition Eric Weddle and John Johnson III at safety. That said, Gaines, the fourth-round pick out of Washington, has the best chance among the rookies for early snaps, given the situation at nose tackle. Former Memphis running back Darrell Henderson could get some opportunities if Todd Gurley deals with more knee troubles this season, though he’d still be playing behind the re-signed Malcolm Brown.
Veteran to watch: The offseason signing of former USC and Agoura High star Clay Matthews III was one of the Rams’ biggest free agency moves, but camp will help us understand exactly how the long-time Packer will fit into the Rams’ defense. Matthews can play at both outside and inside linebacker, though he likely will play more on the outside in Los Angeles. The Rams have a lot of depth at the position, though, with returning players like veteran OLB Dante Fowler. Coming off the worst season of his career, the 33-year-old Matthews will need camp to show how he will fit into the Rams’ rotation.
— ESPNLosAngeles (@ESPNLosAngeles) July 19, 2019
.@AaronDonald97‘s footwork is not fair. That man is 280 pounds
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) July 15, 2019
Need something else to be excited about with this #Rams team next season?
We ranked the Top 10 QB-WR tandems in terms of catchable target percentage & Rams own Cooper Kupp & Jared Goff topped the list!
— PFF LA Rams (@PFF_Rams) July 18, 2019